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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom The Housetops - Chapter 8
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From The Housetops - Chapter 8 Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2978

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From The Housetops - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

An hour later, Mr. Simeon Dodge appeared at the home of Anne Tresslyn. In place of his usual care-free manner there now rested upon him an air of extreme gravity. This late afternoon visit was the result of an inspiration. After leaving Thorpe he found himself deeply buried in reflection which amounted almost to abstraction. He was disturbed by the persistency of the thoughts that nagged at him, no matter whither his aimless footsteps carried him. For the life of him, he could not put from his mind the conviction that Anne Tresslyn was not responsible for her actions.

He was convinced that she had been bullied, cowed, coerced, or whatever you like, into this atrocious marriage, and, of course, there could be no one to blame but her soulless mother. The girl ought to be saved. (These are Simmy's thoughts.) She was being sacrificed to the greed of an unnatural mother. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that she was no longer in love with Braden Thorpe, there still remained the positive conviction that she could not be in love with any one else, and certainly not with that treacherous old man in Washington Square. That, of course, was utterly impossible, so there was but the one alternative: she was being forced into a marriage that would bring the most money into the hands of the designing and, to him, clearly unnatural parent.

He knew nothing of the ante-nuptial settlement, nor was he aware of the old man's quixotic design in coming between Braden and the girl he loved. To Simmy it was nothing short of brigandage, a sort of moral outlawry. Old Templeton Thorpe deserved a coat of tar and feathers, and there was no word for the punishment that ought to be meted out to Mrs. Tresslyn. He tried to think of what ought to be done to her, and, getting as far as boiling oil, gave up in despair, for even that was too much like compassion.

Money! The whole beastly business was money! He thought of his own unestimated wealth. Nothing but money,—horrible, insensate, devastating money! He shuddered as he thought of what his money was likely to bring to him in the end: a loveless wife; avarice in place of respect; misery instead of joy; destruction! How was he ever to know whether a girl was marrying him for himself or for the right to lay hands upon the money his father had left to him when he died? How can any rich man know what he is getting into when he permits a girl to come into his home? To burglarise it with the sanction of State and Church, perhaps, and to escape with the connivance of both after she's got all she wants. That's where the poor man has an advantage over the unprotected rich: he is never confronted by a problem like this. He doesn't have to stop and wonder why the woman marries him. He knows it's love, or stupidity, or morality, but it is never duplicity.

Before he got through with it, Simmy had worked himself into a state of desperation. Regarding himself with unprejudiced eyes he saw that he was not the sort of man a girl would choose for a husband unless he had something besides a happy, loving disposition to offer. She would marry him for his money, of course; certainly he would be the last to suspect her of marrying him for his beauty. He had never thought of it in this light before, and he was wet with the sweat of anguish. He could never be sure! He could love a woman with all his heart and soul, and still never be sure of her! Were all the girls he had loved in his college days—But here he stopped. It was too terrible to even contemplate, this unmerited popularity of his! If only one of them had been honest enough to make fun of his ears, or to snicker when he became impassioned, or to smile contemptuously from her superior height when he asked her to dance,—if only one of them had turned her back upon him, then he would have grasped the unwelcome truth about himself. But, now that he thought of it, not one of them had ever turned a deaf ear to his cajoleries, not one had failed to respond to his blandishments, not one had been sincere enough to frown upon him when he tried to be witty. And that brought him to another sickening standstill: was he as bright and clever and witty as people made him out to be? Wasn't he a dreadful bore, a blithering ass, after all? He felt himself turning cold to the marrow as he thought of the real value that people placed upon him. He even tried to recall a single thing that he had ever said that he could now, in sober judgment, regard as bright or even fairly clever. He couldn't, so then, after all, it was quite clear that he was tolerated because he had nothing but money.

Just as he was about to retire from his club where he had gone for solace, an inspiration was born. It sent him forthwith to Anne Tresslyn's home, dogged, determined and manfully disillusioned.

"Miss Tresslyn is very busy, Mr. Dodge," said Rawson, "but she says she will see you, sir, if you will wait a few moments."

"I'll wait," said Simmy, and sat down.

He had come to the remarkable conclusion that as long as some one had to marry him for his money it might as well be Anne. He was fond of her and he could at least spare her the ignominy and horror of being wedded to old Templeton Thorpe. With his friend Braden admittedly out of the running, there was no just cause why he should not at least have a try at saving Anne. She might jump at the chance. He was already blaming himself for not having recognised her peril, her dire necessity, long before this. And since he had reached the dismal conclusion that no one could possibly love him, it would be the sensible thing on his part to at least marry some one whom he loved, thereby securing, in a way, half of a bargain when he might otherwise have to put up with nothing at all. At any rate, he would be doing Anne a good turn by marrying her, and it was reasonably certain that she would not bring him any more unhappiness than any other woman who might accept him.

As he sat there waiting for her he began to classify his financial holdings, putting certain railroads and industrials into class one, others into class two, and so on to the best of his ability to recollect what really comprised his fortune. It was rather a hopeless task, for to save his life he could not remember whether he had Lake Shore stock or West Shore stock, and he did not know what Standard Oil was selling at, nor any of the bank stocks except the Fifth Avenue, which seldom went below forty- five hundred. There might be a very awkward situation, too, if he couldn't justify his proposal with facts instead of conjectures. Suppose that she came out point blank and asked him what he was worth: what could he say? But then, of course, she wouldn't have to ask such a question. If she considered it possible to marry him, she would _know how much he was worth without inquiring. As a matter of fact, she probably knew to a dollar, and that was a great deal more than he knew.

Half an hour passed before she came down. She was wearing her hat and was buttoning her gloves as she came hurriedly into the room. Simmy had a startling impression that he had seen a great many women putting on their gloves as they came into rooms where he was waiting. The significance of this extraordinary custom had never struck him with full force before. In the gloom of his present appraisal of himself, he now realised with shocking distinctness that the women he called upon were always on the point of going somewhere else.

"Hello, Simmy," cried Anne gaily. He had never seen her looking more beautiful. There was real colour in her smooth cheeks and the sparkle of enthusiasm in her big, dark eyes.

He shook hands with her. "Hello," he said.

"I can spare you just twenty minutes, Simmy," she said, peering at the little French clock on the mantelpiece with the frankest sort of calculation. "Going to the dressmaker's at five, you know. It's a great business, this getting married, Simmy. You ought to try it."

"I know I ought," said he, pulling a chair up close to hers. "That's what I came to see you about, Anne."

She gave a little shriek of wonder. "For heaven's sake, Simmy, don't tell me that _you are going to be married. I can't believe it."

He made note of the emphasis she put upon the pronoun, and secretly resented it.

"Depends entirely on you, Anne," he said. He looked over his shoulder to see if any one was within the sound of his voice, which he took the precaution to lower to what had always been a successful tone in days when he was considered quite an excellent purveyor of sweet nothings in dim hallways, shady nooks and unpopulated stairways. "I want you to marry me right away," he went on, but not with that amazing confidence of yester- years.

Anne blinked. Then she drew back and stared at him for a moment. A merry smile followed her brief inspection.

"Simmy, you've been drinking."

He scowled, and at that she laughed aloud. "'Pon my soul, not more than three, Anne. I rarely drink in the middle of the day. Almost never, I swear to you. Confound it, why should you say I've been drinking? Can't I be serious without being accused of drunkenness? What the devil do you mean, Anne, by intimating that I—"

"Don't explode, Simmy," she cried. "I wasn't intimating a thing. I was positively asserting it. But go on, please. You interest me. Don't try to look injured, Simmy. You can't manage it at all."

"I didn't come here to be insulted," he growled.

"Did you come here to insult me?" she inquired, the smile suddenly leaving her eyes.

"Good Lord, no!" he gasped. "Only I don't like what you said a minute ago. I never was more serious or more sober in my life. You've been proposed to a hundred times, I suppose, and I'll bet I'm the only one you've ever accused of drinking at the time. It's just my luck. I—"

"What in the world are you trying to get at, Simmy Dodge?" she cried. "Are you really asking me to marry you?"

"Certainly," he said, far from mollified.

She leaned back in the chair and regarded him in silence for a moment. "Is it possible that you have not heard that I am to be married this month?" she asked, and there was something like pity in her manner.

"Heard it? Of course, I've heard it. Everybody's heard it. That's just what I've come to see you about. To talk the whole thing over. To see if we can't do something. Now, there is a way out of it, dear girl. It may not be the best way in the world but it's infinitely—"

"Are you crazy?" she cried, staring at him in alarm.

"See here, Anne," he said gently, "I am your friend. It will not make any difference to you if I tell you that I love you, that I've loved you for years. It's true nevertheless. I'm glad that I've at last had the courage to tell you. Still I suppose it's immaterial. I've come up here this afternoon to ask you to be my wife. I don't ask you to _say that you love me. I don't want to put you in such a position as that. I know you don't love me, but—"

"Simmy! Oh, Simmy!" she cried out, a hysterical laugh in her throat that died suddenly in a strange, choking way. She was looking at him now with wide, comprehending eyes.

"I can't bear to see you married to that old man, Anne," he went on. "It is too awful for words. You are one of the most perfect of God's creations. You shall not be sacrificed on this damned altar of—I beg your pardon, I did not mean to begin by accusing any one of deliberately forcing you into—into—" He broke off and pulled fiercely at his little moustache.

"I see now," she said presently. "You are willing to sacrifice yourself in order that I may be spared. Is that it?"

"It isn't precisely a sacrifice. At least, it isn't quite the same sort of sacrifice that goes with your case as it now stands. In this instance, one of us at least is moved by a feeling of love;—in the other, there is no love at all. If you will take me, Anne, you will get a man who adores you for yourself. Isn't there something in that? I can give you everything that old man Thorpe can give, with love thrown in. I understand the situation. You are not marrying that old man because you love him. There's something back of it all that you can't tell me, and I shall not ask you to do so. But listen, dear; I'm decent, I'm honest, I'm young and I'm rich. I can give you everything that money will buy. Good Lord, I wish I could remember just what I've got to offer you in the way of—But, never mind now. If you'd like it, I'll have my secretary make out a complete list of—"

"So you think I am marrying Mr. Thorpe for his money,—is that it, Simmy dear?" she asked.

"I know it," said he promptly. "That is, you are marrying him because some one else—ahem! You can't expect me to believe that you love the old codger."

"No, I can't expect that of any one. Thank you, Simmy. I think I understand. You really want to—to save me. Isn't that so?"

"I do, Anne, God knows I do," he said fervently. "It's the most beastly, diabolical—"

"You have been fair with me, Simmy," she broke in seriously, "so I'll be fair with you. I am marrying Mr. Thorpe for his money. I ought to be ashamed to confess it openly in this way, but I'm not. Every one knows just why I am going into this thing, and every one is putting the blame upon my mother. She is not wholly to blame. I am not being driven into it. It's in the blood of us. We are that kind. We are a bad lot, Simmy, we women of the breed. It goes a long way back, and we're all alike. Don't ask me to say anything more, dear old boy. I'm just a rotter, so let it go at that."

"You're nothing of the sort," he exclaimed, seizing her hand. "You're nothing of the sort!"

"Oh, yes, I am," she said wearily.

"See here, Anne," he said earnestly, "why not take me? If it's a matter of money, and nothing else, why not take me? That's what I mean. That's just what I wanted to explain to you. Think it over, Anne. For heaven's sake, don't go on with the other thing. Chuck it all and—take me. I won't bother you much. You can have all the money you need—and more, if you ask for it. Hang it all, I'll settle a stipulated amount upon you before we take another step. A million, two millions,—I don't care a hang,—only don't spoil this bright, splendid young life of yours by—Oh, Lordy, it's incomprehensible!"

She patted the back of his hand, gently, even tremblingly. Her eyes were very bright and very solemn.

"It has to go on now, Simmy," she said at last.

For a long time they were silent.

"I hope you have got completely over your love for Braden Thorpe," he said. "But, of course, you have. You don't care for him any more. You couldn't care for him and go on with this. It wouldn't be human, you know."

"No, it wouldn't be human," she said, her face rigid.

He was staring intently at the floor. Something vague yet sure was forming in his brain, something that grew to comprehension before he spoke.

"By Jove, Anne," he muttered, "I am beginning to understand. You wouldn't marry a _young man for his money. It has to be an old man, an incredibly old man. I see!"

"I would not marry a young man, Simmy, for anything but love," she said simply. "I would not live for years with a man unless I loved him, be he poor or rich. Now you have it, my friend. I'm a pretty bad one, eh?"

"No, siree! I'd say it speaks mighty well for you," he cried enthusiastically. His whimsical smile returned and the points of his little moustache went up once more. "Just think of waiting for a golden wedding anniversary with a duffer like me! By Jove, I can see the horror of that myself. You just couldn't do it. I get your idea perfectly, Anne. Would it interest you if I were to promise to be extremely reckless with my life? You see, I'm always taking chances with my automobiles. Had three or four bad smash-ups already, and one broken arm. I _could be a little more reckless and _very careless if you think it would help. I've never had typhoid or pneumonia. I could go about exposing myself to all sorts of things after a year or two. Flying machines, too, and long distance swimming. I might even try to swim the English Channel. North Pole expeditions, African wild game hunts,—all that sort of thing, Anne. I'll promise to do everything in my power to make life as short as possible, if you'll only—"

"Oh, Simmy, you are killing," she cried, laughing through her tears. "I shall always adore you."

"That's what they all say. Well, I've done my best, Anne. If you'll run away with me to-night, or to-morrow, or any time before the twenty-third, I'll be the happiest man in the world. You can call me up any time,—at the club or at my apartment. I'll be ready. Think it over. Good-bye. I wish I could wish you good luck in this other—but, of course, you couldn't expect that. We're a queer lot, all of us. I've always had a sneaking suspicion that if my mother had married the man she was truly in love with, I'd be a much better-looking chap than I am to-day."

She was standing beside him at the door, nearly a head taller than he.

"Or," she amended with a dainty grimace, "you might be a very beautiful girl, and that would be dreadful."

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CHAPTER VIIA fortnight passed. Preparations for the wedding went on in the Tresslyn home with little or no slackening of the tension that had settled upon the inmates with the advent of the disturber. Anne was now sullenly determined that nothing should intervene to prevent the marriage, unless an unkind Providence ordered the death of Templeton Thorpe. She was bitter toward Braden. Down in her soul, she knew that he was justified in the stand he had taken, and in that knowledge lay the secret of her revolt against one of the commands of Nature. He had treated her with the
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